The Solution to Having Reliable, Affordable Power: Natural Gas

With winter heating costs spiking, and a roiling energy crisis in Europe, the conversation on pacing the energy transition has become a headline issue. The discussions are getting more granular and proving the crucial role natural gas plays today and will play in the decades to come. In Congress, however, some lawmakers are pushing for aggressive decarbonization proposals to cut natural gas out of America’s energy mix, threatening both affordability and reliability – none of which is possible without dispatchable power generation like flexible natural gas to power providers.

A Committee Discussion

The House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Climate Crisis recently held a hearing to discuss strategies for grid resilience and reliability, while not burdening ratepayers with higher costs. Reliability is the characteristic of being there all the time. Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from interruption.

Historically, grid reliability has been achieved through power that can be generated on demand, and the infrastructure to transmit and distribute it. But an all-renewable future would threaten the ability to dispatch power at a moment’s notice and meet seasonal demand. A recent Morning Consult survey of likely voters found that while a majority of Americans want more renewable integration, they also support maintaining reliability through existing non-renewable generation.

The witnesses were in agreement that there needs to be investment in the U.S. grid to improve both resiliency and reliability, which would require the United States to plan out and think about the pieces that are going to work together to reduce GHG emissions and be the least costly option for customers. A number of utilities have begun this investment – Florida Power and Light and Texas’ Bandera Electric Cooperative have invested in sophisticated technologies and grid hardening to enhance demand response, engage residents, reduce disruptions, and decrease recovery time from storms.

There is more to be done nationally if service disruptions and grid hardening are to be achieved nationwide and benefit every American. And while all were agreed that solar and wind will play a crucial role in the energy future of the country, the minority witness, Mark Mills of the Manhattan Institute, disagreed to what extent wind and solar integration is feasible without firm power resources like natural gas:

“Our increasingly digital economy, which everyone recognizes is ever more important to fueling economic growth, will require both more electricity and especially more reliability. While there is clearly a role on modern grids, and one greater than today, for solar, wind, and battery systems, caution is in order when it comes ensuring the reliability of society’s most critical infrastructure.”

No Reliability or Affordability Without Natural Gas

You only have to look to states like California and the Northeast region to understand that banning natural gas causes disruptions in power supply and increased costs.

Policies restricting natural gas power generation in California failed when the state experienced a heatwave and grid problems that forced it to bring five natural gas power plants online to keep the lights on. And “Keep It In the Ground” policies in the Northeast have limited natural gas resources from powering electric plants, resulting in the area burning higher emitting fuel oil to keep the lights on during recent winter storms.

These short-sighted policies are the reason the New England region and California have some of the highest-priced electricity in the contiguous United States. California’s rates have increased steadily in recent years, and New York residents saw electric bills nearly triple in January. Yet these states are only doubling down, increasing renewables without firming up their dispatchable energy supply.

Natural gas and renewables are complementary and should be viewed as such, but policies that determine a clear winner and loser in the energy transition will ultimately mean residents lose. Natural gas will be vital in integrating more renewables on the grid and providing the on-demand, low carbon energy for rising energy consumption.

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